There are probably few things that feel as utopian as finding yourself sharing a sidewalk with a robot, especially one that carries your lunch orders. Since last month, Kiwibots have presented themselves as Brandeis’s introduction to such reality: Kiwibots, with their slick, blocky designs, bright orange flags and expressive faces that make winks or heart eyes at passerby, have been parading from North Quad all the way down to Rosenthal Quad and beyond. The future, it seems, is now.
The Brandeis Hoot did an interview with members of Kiwi Campus, the company behind Kiwibots, over zoom. They told The Hoot that Kiwibots’ missions have always been to serve communities and to “make delivery by technology accessible.” And the team has been amazed by Brandeis’ response to robot delivery: 50 Kiwibot orders were placed on the first day and the Kiwi team told The Hoot that the number of deliveries in the first week broke the company’s internal record.
Brandeis is far from Kiwi’s first rodeo. A Colombian food delivery startup co-founded by Felipe Chávez Cortés and Sergio Pachón, Kiwi started out with human couriers. It then switched to robot delivery when it expanded to the U.S. in 2016, partnering with colleges in California such UC Berkeley. Now, Kiwibots operate across 15 college campuses and have completed two hundred thousand deliveries in total. Last year, Kiwi announced a partnership with Sodexo, the hospitality company behind Brandeis’ dining services and the Bite app. Michael Reilly, Sodexo’s resident district manager at Brandeis, remarked that Bite, launched at Brandeis in fall 2020, allows for efficient, mobile ordering and helps with enforcing social distancing given the pandemic, and Kiwibots help further this goal. Sodexo has seen the success of Starship Technologies, another robot delivery service, at universities like Bridgewater State. Brandeis is actually the first school in New England who welcomed Kiwibots onto its campus, Reilly said.
Why college campuses? The Kiwi team cited the high concentration of businesses and demands around school campuses as well as colleges’ willingness to experiment with robot delivery. The team mentioned that Chávez, the company CEO, regards solving students’ needs as a way of furthering his goal of “serving communities.” And Kiwi does so by offering low budget delivery.
The team walked me through the process of ordering a Kiwibot delivery: open the Bite app, select “Order” from the bottom menu, click “Kiwibot Delivery,” and you will see a list of dining options which include classic dining choices like Einstein as well as virtual dining like Buddy V’s Cake Slice and MrBeast Burger. Then, you select from a list of 20 drop-off locations on campus, all of which are dorms, pick a delivery time and choose a payment method. Once an order is placed, you will receive a text message with a link that keeps track of the delivery’s location. After restaurant handlers load the orders into Kiwibots, Kiwibots will start navigating to its destination using a pre-built map of the entire Brandeis campus. Once the Kiwibot has arrived at its destination, you will receive another text message with a prompt to open up the robot and retrieve your order.
Lizzy Joo ’22, shared with me her first Kiwibot delivery experience: she initially had trouble with the tracking link she received so she checked Bite instead to see whether the order had arrived. Joo placed her order at 4:50 p.m. and she didn’t get it until 5:40 p.m.. Despite that, Joo remarked that she would use Kiwibots again and believes Kiwibot delivery to be a convenient choice, especially for people in quarantine.
Currently, there are 15 Kiwibots on the Brandeis campus and only seven of them are operating on a daily basis. And the team will deploy more Kiwibots as the demand grows. Kiwibots are eco-friendly, producing zero carbon emission, using batteries as their power source. Kiwibot 4.1, the newest iteration of the robots which currently operate in Brandeis, stay on campus overnight. They can operate for eight hours after three hours of charging.
With the presence of our new metallic friends come ample opportunities for “happy” accidents. “I’m afraid for the Kiwibots,” said Eben Saveson ’24. “What if they get kicked or run over?” In response to that, the team assured me of Kiwibots’ ability to avoid people and objects. Kiwibots are capable of sensing distances using laser scan data and will stop for passersby. And if you were too busy texting and accidentally bumped into one of them, school and students will not be liable for these incidents. “We have our robot insurance,” the team added. And for those who want to prank their new metallic friends, the team said that students should keep in mind that doing so will cause delay in others’ deliveries. Kiwibots are not fully autonomous yet, so human operators are always on standby to resolve any issues.
So how do Kiwibots benefit Brandeis? The Kiwi team believes Kiwibots offer great convenience, especially for students who are immobile or confined to their dorm rooms. Moreover, Kiwi has been hiring students as part of its operations and maintenance teams in other campuses and it will do the same at Brandeis. There might be internship opportunities, too. “These robots do not take any jobs, but [they] create more jobs,” said the team. In the future, the team said Kiwi’s goal is to expand to 100 campuses. They are also launching in Dubai and partnering with Disney and Domino’s Pizza.
If you want to witness firsthand the sight of a Kiwibot waiting for you at your dorm entrance, consider placing an order on Bite.